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MQL, SAL, and SQL … Oh My!

By Christopher Hosford on December 07, 2020

The coordination between marketing and sales has never been more important, and is particularly critical at the bottom of the sales funnel when both teams are hard at work to convert prospects into solid customers.


While you’ve been busy collecting email addresses and devising compelling content that demonstrates your thought leadership and printing solutions, your sales team has been eager to know who your next hottest prospects are so they can act to seal the deal. You can identify these folks via a three-step process: determining who is a “marketing qualified lead” (MQL), those who are “sales accepted leads” (SQL), and finally those prospects who are ID’d as “sales qualified leads” (SQL). Let’s examine all three, what defines them, and what you goals and actions are at each stage.


First, you probably have already identified “just plain” leads. Perhaps they’ve shown some interest in you, via website visits or downloaded content. Your job in parsing through this complexity can be greatly aided by technology—your CRM, email, or marketing automation platforms—to get into the details of who’s just kicking the tires and who’s a hot prospect.


Here, you’ll want to set up lead-scoring criteria based on the data your platform collects. For example, you might track responses to your calls to action, page views and visits, or email interactions, all of which indicate interest. Other markers can include email opens and click-throughs, social media shares, downloads, or product demo requests. Your automation platform will then provide scores to rank your prospects by likelihood of becoming customers.


Marketing qualified lead. An MQL can be defined as a prospect who has “raised his hand” in some way, perhaps in responding to your social posts or registering to receiving a piece of content. You’ll want to continue to nurture these individuals with additional content that’s most likely to move them further down the sales funnel, like customer reviews and testimonials, and comparison tables, which give them an idea of what it would be like to be your customer.


This is a closed-loop process, by the way. Based on feedback from sales, your marketing efforts may have to change to tinker with your scoring rules. Again, it’s essential that marketing and sales work closely together at this stage.


Sales accepted lead. This is the critical point when marketing hands off the lead to the sales team. Whether you’re a small shop and handle both marketing and sales overtures yourself or whether you have a separate sales team, this involves a profound change of focus.


Here sales throws the process into high gear, looking at the lead’s company size, industry, and job function to determine the next step. When you (or sales) determines that the lead is ready to be approached directly, the lead is “sales-accepted.”


sales qualified lead has shown definite interest in something you can provide. Your sales team doesn’t want to waste time with tire kickers. They should try to determine whether the lead has an actual need for your printing services, as well as a timeline and budget. If the lead is not a final decision maker, maybe he or she is an influencer who can recommend you to higher-ups, so they’re valuable as well.


The sales goal at this point is to contact the lead directly and try convert them into a customer with additional customer reviews, comparison charts, and your case studies of success. You might offer free tutorials or ebooks about your company, or planning documents that show specifically how you can address their needs and challenges.


Of course, you won’t win every piece of business that is recognized as SQL. But this process from MQL to SAL to SQL can greatly clarify your mindset, your choice of appropriate content, and the best ways for sales to approach these prospects. Good luck.


Christopher Hosford is editor at large for Target Marketing. Former editor-in-chief of Nielsen’s Sales & Marketing Management magazine, he’s covered all aspects of sales, marketing, and cutting-edge marketing technologies.